Out-of-control emotions can harm your health in unexpected ways. Without even realizing it, we can fall into patterns of behavior that sabotage our health and lead to long-term consequences. #health #emotions #emotionalhealth #cortisol #stress #selfcare #SelfCareSunday #ruinedhealth

Out-of-control emotions can harm your health in unexpected ways. Without even realizing it, we can fall into patterns of behavior that sabotage our health and lead to long-term consequences.

We all have areas, or domains, in our life that could use improvement. But knowing we need to improve and actually improving requires that we learn to set goals. The first domain we explored this year had to do with relational goals. This month we’ll address emotional goals. Don’t worry, this series won’t exhort you to act all touchy-feely and woo-woo. You may have grown up in a family of origin where no one talked about emotions or labeled some emotions as negative or positive. This month’s series will help you learn how to set emotional growth goals to help you improve both your mental health your relationships.

Out-of-control emotions can harm your health in unexpected ways. Without even realizing it, we can fall into patterns of behavior that sabotage our health and lead to long-term consequences. #health #emotions #emotionalhealth #cortisol #stress #selfcare #SelfCareSunday #ruinedhealth

Out-of-Control Emotions and Me

“Do you want the macaroni and cheese, or the tomato soup?” I asked Pedro.

He grimaced. “Soup.”

“Do you want peas or green beans?”

He shrugged. “Doesn’t matter. Green beans easier to eat.”

We sat in the hospital room where the bright September sunlight washed out the constant stream of numbers on the multiple monitors attached to tubes sprouting out of his body. For the first time in weeks he cared about what he ate.

“I’ll order a whole-wheat roll and butter for you, too,” I decided. 


“Yeah, do peaches sound good?”

He nodded, and his eyes drifted closed. 

“You should definitely order the Häagen-Dazs bar,” I told him.

“Too much food!” he protested.

“I can help you eat it,” I offered. “We’ll save money because I won’t have to go out to eat.”

He nodded again, and fell into a slumber as I finished the order form and clipped it to the whiteboard for the orderly to pick up. 

When the meal came, he worked on it for 45 minutes before pushing the tray away. Because the cancer had attached itself to his facial muscles, chewing and swallowing took forever. 

“You finish it.” He offered as he drifted off to sleep again and I tackled the food. The Häagen-Dazs bar had partially melted, but every chocolaty bite acted as a tonic to my out-of-control life. 

What’s Your Drug of Choice?

Food became my drug of choice for drowning my out-of-control emotions. If I worried about my next meal I wouldn’t have to worry about hospital bills. Choosing and anticipating the day’s flavor of ice-cream bar prevented me from ruminating on the glacial progress of Pedro’s treatment. Trotting down the street to the nearest Starbucks kept me from thinking about how much I missed our girls. 

Stuffing my emotions equaled stuffing my face. 

Out-of-control emotions can harm your health in unexpected ways. Without even realizing it, we can fall into patterns of behavior that sabotage our health and lead to long-term consequences. #health #emotions #emotionalhealth #cortisol #stress #selfcare #SelfCareSunday #ruinedhealth

I couldn’t let my voice crack when I talked with the girls each day. They needed to see my strength. I couldn’t burst into tears when I walked into Pedro’s hospital room. He needed to hear my encouragement. I couldn’t let the medical professionals see slumped shoulders and dragging feet as I walked around the cancer ward. They needed to know we had hope and wouldn’t let them give up.

Food soothed the beast of pent-up emotions. And so I ate. I also gained. Walking up the 11 flights of stairs to the cancer ward got harder and harder, so I started using the elevator. On my flying visits back to Montana, I had no energy to enjoy my regular after-dinner walks. 

In retrospect, I should have asked for help. They have support groups and counselors for people in crisis. But I thought I had everything under control. After all, people told me so all the time. 

“You are so strong,” they would tell me. “I would be a basket case if my husband was going through this.”

Pedro miraculously recovered from cancer after a stem-cell transplant. Within a year, he had gained back his pre-cancer weight and started his usual outdoor activities. It took me almost a decade to (mostly) recover my physical health.

If Only I’d Known About Cortisol

Cortisol, also known as the stress hormone, has many roles in our bodies. It mainly functions to give us increased energy levels by raising our blood-sugar and working in tandem with adrenaline (which increases our heart rate). Together, the two hormones prepare your body for flight or fright by shutting down non-essential functions and oversupplying your muscles and brain. Your muscles and brains will help you get out of the situation. 

But too much of a good thing can turn into a bad thing.

Cortisol plays both the good cop and the bad cop in your body. Some studies suggest that cortisol protects us from the emotional load of a stressful situation. Kind of like a good cop taking the pressure off the stress of the bad cop yelling at the suspect. Maybe that explains my ability to outwardly ‘handle’ 10 months of acute stress.

But cortisol can also build up in our bodies with the intensity of a bad cop until we explode (or implode). According to Mayo Clinic

“The long-term activation of the stress-response system and the overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones that follows can disrupt almost all your body’s processes.”

Mayo Clinic

The side-effects of constant stress look like a diet of chips and soda on a couch potato:

  • Weight gain
  • Insomnia
  • Memory problems
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Headaches
  • Heart disease
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Digestive problems
  • Reproductive system problems
  • Musculoskeletal disorders

During Pedro’s illness, and for years afterward, I experienced all of these symptoms except heart disease. Thankfully, not all at the same time. 

Stress can kill you—or at least make you feel rotten 90% of the time. Those negative effects can linger for years after a period of intense stress—especially if you don’t consciously work to counteract them. 

Hacks for Counteracting the Negative Effects of Stress (and Out-of-Control Emotions)

1. Exercise Every. Single. Day.

Even if you don’t feel like it and even if you can scarcely walk. Exercise. Sit in a chair and air box. March in place. Buy a fitness tracker and try to increase the number of steps you take each day.

Not exercising will prevent those feel-good endorphins from releasing. So just do it. Your health depends on you moving.

2. Set Yourself Up for a Good Night’s Sleep

Set a bedtime (little kids aren’t the only ones who need a bedtime). Stick to it, as much as possible, even on weekends. Set a wake time, too. You can train your body what to expect, and it will respond. 

Take an inventory of your current going-to-sleep routines and eliminate anything that the experts say will prevent you from having restful sleep: television, computers, phones, alcohol, caffeine, heavy exercise, and chaos in general. 

3. Get in Touch with Your Emotions

Finish your day with writing in a journal or making lists of good things that happened that day. Research shows that we can enhance our mood by remembering positive events

Form a habit of naming your emotions and expressing them.

4. Build a Support Network

Barbara Kingsolver, in her novel Animal Dreams, introduces a group of local women known as the ‘Stitch and Bitch Club.’ Don’t join one of those—they just provide more stress. 

You want a support network of people who ask you about the good things happening in your life. Another author, Robin Jones Gunn, in her novel Being Known, introduces a group of friends who build each other up so that when stressful times arise, each of them knows someone she can talk to about the stresses. You want to form or join a group like this. 

Intentionally gather a group of friends and invest time in each other. The support network will prove invaluable when you need it.

If you’re a person of faith, your daily relationship with God will form the basis of your support network. If you don’t have a nurturing group of friends, make it a matter of prayer. 

5. Seek Professional Help

Our emotions don’t operate in isolation; neither does our physical body. If you experience unexplainable health problems, consider checking in with a psychologist or licensed counselor (as well as your regular physician). 

You may need medication to help regulate your emotions so that you can work through your stressors with a counselor and learn coping skills. Physical health and mental health work hand-in-hand to help you live a balanced lifestyle.

Check out these five hacks for handling out-of-control emotions. #selfcare #selfcarehacks #emotionalhealth Click To Tweet

You Can Get off the Roller Coaster

You don’t need to let your out-of-control emotions rule or ruin your life. Five simple steps will help you get off the roller coaster. Exercise every day, make sleep a priority, get in touch with your emotions, form a support network, and get professional help if you need it.

Next week I’ll talk about handling out-of-control emotions from other people.

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  1. Great post Anita full of wise advice from your experience.
    This series has triggered my own memories going through my late husband’s journey with brain cancer, though as you know our experience didn’t have a positive outcome as your’s & Pedro’s journey. My lovely man passed away 12 weeks after diagnosis.
    I too was seen as the ‘strong’ one, however the trauma took its toll on my physical being. Two years later I was diagnosed with chronic autoimmune conditions!
    Bless you,
    Tea With Jennifer recently posted…Hidden Treasures of DarknessMy Profile

  2. I think it’s ironic that the days when we really feel the most wiped out are actually the days when we need the mood-boosting chemicals (like dopamine) that are released when we exercise. You are right – every single day! Thank you for these wonderful tips, Anita. Most of us are stressed now and could use this help.
    Laurie recently posted…Doing It For the GoosebumpsMy Profile

  3. I grew up feeling I wasn’t allowed to show anger. Thankfully, I could talk to my mom about anything, so I had a safety valve then. That led to years of holding anger in. But I didn’t want to go to the other extreme of exploding at other people: I had been on the receiving end of that and didn’t want to inflict it on others. Yet holding it in has negative consequences. I’m thankful for the ways God has helped me deal with it.
    Barbara Harper recently posted…Why Doesn’t God Explain?My Profile

  4. On the days when I don’t feel a bit like running, I have found that actually running anyway changes the the whole day. Our emotions are important to understand, but when mine are in the driver’s seat, I don’t get far.

  5. I come to this post from two different sides of the same coin: dealing with challenging emotions BEFORE I did trauma work (EMDR), and dealing with challenging emotions since healing. And the challenges SINCE have been far more difficult (teen mental health crisis)–but DEALING with them has been noticeably different. Having an awareness of that is profound: sometimes it feels like an out-of-body experience as I watch myself navigate the waters (though still scary & challenging & at times, shocking). While I’d rather not be ‘in it’ in the first place, I’ve often said to myself & out loud, “I can’t imagine how I would have handled this Before…” So–three cheers for getting professional help–and for the daily commitments that help maintain our good, hard work!

  6. Thank you, Anita. Exercise and sleep really help my overall wellness in this area. And I’m all for seeking professional health. After a traumatic experience this past January, I went to see my primary care doctor and a counselor. Both of whom said they would be part of the team to get me through this. And they did along with the Lord.
    Karen Friday recently posted…7 Biblical Promises for Walking in HumilityMy Profile

  7. SUCH great reminders! I just got back in my workout routine after a slump, and the difference is HUGE in my emotional well-being. It’s so easy to push off, but NOT WORTH IT. I’m also terrible about trying to push away my emotions (hello, enneagram 7!) but when I acknowledge them as indicators, not truth, and get to the bottom of things, it’s hard work, but so helpful. Grateful for you!

  8. I gained a lot of weight when we went through a teen challenge. I’ve learned that after every big challenge, God brings refreshing where the pent up pressure has the opportunity to depressurize – but I understand that hospital stay – the starbucks, the best place to pick up a salad, Panera’s kitchen sink cookies – being far from home and being strong. I really wish hospitals had an exercise room for patient’s spouses – or at least someplace to go walk a couple of mile while you’re sleeping in a lazy boy helping with care. Thanks for sharing the good advice!!! It’s so hard when you’re in the middle of the Big Fight!

  9. Thanks for permission to “make sleep a priority.” 🙂 I do really struggle with that. I used to subscribe to the school of thought, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”

    Seriously though, thanks for the simple practical advice. I also tend to stuff my faces when my emotions are too big to handle.
    Jerralea recently posted…Checking In – Restored, Favored and RescuedMy Profile

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Anita Ojeda

Anita Ojeda juggles writing with teaching high school English and history. When she's not lurking in odd places looking for rare birds, you can find her camping with her kids, adventuring with her husband or mountain biking with her students.

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